Members of the Illinois House will cast votes in January on whether Michael Madigan will again serve as their speaker. And the state’s Republican Party is warning that if metro-east lawmakers vote the wrong way, it’ll haunt them in 2018.
Republicans have been trying to make an issue of whether downstate House members will vote for Madigan as speaker. Their efforts include a website, www.bossmadigan.com, which singles out Democratic House members from Southern Illinois: Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton; Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Eldorado; Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville; and Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton.
Costello said he hasn’t made a decision.
“I don’t think I can answer that question until I know who all the candidates are,” he said. “What I have to do is vote in a way which helps me best represent my constituents and my district. I represent roughly 110,000 people, and what I’ve got to do is make sure the vote I cast isn’t an emotional vote — that it’s a vote that allows me to best represent those people.”
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Kent Redfield, an expert on Illinois politics, said downstate Democrats potentially are “in a real box” on the issue. Do you risk being the target of attack ads in 2018 that link you to Madigan — particularly in downstate Illinois, where he’s unpopular?
Or do you vote against Madigan, which would be akin to bad-mouthing your team’s quarterback, and then wondering why he never throws you a pass?
“We’ve had Democrats not vote for Speaker Madigan in the past, as a protest vote, and they have ended up having a hard time getting legislation passed and getting committee assignments,” Redfield said.
We’ve had Democrats not vote for Speaker Madigan in the past, as a protest vote, and they have ended up having a hard time getting legislation passed and getting committee assignments.
Kent Redfield, expert on Illinois politics
Beiser and Stuart did not immediately respond to messages and calls seeking comment.
Costello said he views the GOP’s effort as “counterproductive” politics, coming at a time when the state has big issues to resolve.
“The people of the state of Illinois deserve real answers and real solutions. They deserve governing instead of all these political games, which is all this is — political gamesmanship,” he said. “They deserve governing and they deserve a state budget, and it’s unfortunate things have gotten to this point.”
The people of the state of Illinois deserve real answers and real solutions. They deserve governing instead of all these political games, which is all this is — political gamesmanship. They deserve governing and they deserve a state budget, and it’s unfortunate things have gotten to this point.
Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton
Illinois Republican Party spokesman Steven Yaffe said the party will remind voters in 2018 whether those legislators voted for Madigan to be speaker.
“Mike Madigan is responsible for three decades of unbalanced budgets and has continued to block bipartisan reforms such as term limits and a property tax freeze,” Yaffe said. “We will make sure that voters know where Democratic candidates stand on Mike Madigan and his disastrous record.”
We will make sure that voters know where Democratic candidates stand on Mike Madigan and his disastrous record.
Steven Yaffe, spokesman, Illinois Republican Party
Republicans took two state legislative seats from downstate Democrats in the November election, knocking off incumbent Sen. Gary Forby, D-Benton, and incumbent Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion.
Phelps had an underfunded opponent in the November election. Costello had no opponent.
Stuart narrowly defeated incumbent Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, in November’s election. The race, targeted by both parties, drew about $4.5 million in campaign donations.
In another targeted race, Beiser narrowly defeated GOP challenger Mike Babcock. Their race drew about $4.4 million in campaign donations.
Stuart, when asked if she’ll vote for Madigan, told the Illinois News Network: “I don’t know what the options will be. You’re asking me a hypothetical question just like I wouldn’t tell you how I would vote on any piece of legislation until I actually read the legislation.”
Madigan, D-Chicago, has been speaker of the House for all but two years since 1983 and faces re-election to the post in early January, after new legislators are sworn into office. House members have elected Madigan as their speaker 16 times, but in recent years Republicans have worked to paint him as a too-powerful ruler who is a major cause of what’s wrong with Illinois.
In the November election, Republicans made a concerted effort to link Democratic candidates to Madigan. Republicans had a net gain of four seats in the House and two in the Senate.
At a meeting Nov. 28 with reporters, Madigan said he’s confident he’ll be re-elected as speaker.
“As you probably know I’ve been talking to the Democratic members of the House and I have overwhelming support to be re-elected as the speaker,” he said.
Redfield said it’s possible that Madigan could arrange a vote in which he makes sure he has enough votes to become speaker, while at the same time allowing a handful of Democrats to skip the vote.
Redfield said some Democratic House members would be more vulnerable than others to a he-voted-for-Madigan attack. Redfield said Phelps, for example, is well-known to voters in his district, and is known as a legislator who pushed for the state’s concealed-carry gun law.
“He’s got a lot of political capital, which would make it difficult to use the Madigan attack,” Redfield said.
Costello also pushed for the concealed-carry law.
“I think my constituents know I’m a very conservative Democrat, and I consider myself to be exactly in the middle,” Costello said. “I vote for what’s in the best interest of my district. I believe my constituents know me and know my voting record.”
He added, “The elections are over, and it’s time to govern. And that goes for the General Assembly and for the executive branch.”
When the House convenes in January, with newly-elected lawmakers sworn in, Democrats will have 67 seats; Republicans will have 51 seats. It takes 60 votes to be elected speaker. So if nine Democrats and all 51 Republicans voted together, they could elect someone other than Madigan.